By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck LLC
(Previously published May, 2009)
In tough economic times, people have to make difficult decisions. But what we’re seeing is that even in the hardest-hit areas, parents are putting their kids first. Families may be doing without things, but they are still finding a way to make sure Johnny and Jenny can play sports.
An article by Tom Van Riper of Forbes.com goes even farther, to theorize that the ailing economy may actually be benefiting the youth sports world. He attributes the latest reports on youth baseball enrollment increases to families choosing sports over other family activities.
“Thanks to the aching economy,” he writes, “the expensive summer vacation is out for many families around the country. A quiet beneficiary: youth baseball, a declining sport now enjoying a recession-induced resurgence. Following years of steady decline, organizations from Little League to Tee Ball USA to the Connie Mack league are generating more sign-ups in 2009, thanks to the financial downturn.”
There is no doubt that these trends are not unique to baseball. Soccer, basketball, football and all youth sports may see solid enrollment numbers over the coming months, despite a gloomy financial outlook. Could it be that some parents are reluctant to withdraw Junior from sports because now, more than ever, college scholarship money might be vital? Is it possible that sports provide a necessary diversion – something the whole family can enjoy together and feel good about? Whatever the reason, the message is clear: Youth sports are alive and thriving.
This is the case at the local in-house or recreation level, as well as for competitive, “traveling” tournament teams. Amateur athletes and their families are emerging as some of the most resilient travelers in the ongoing tourism downturn, according to a Miami Herald article on amateur sports competitions in South Florida. Tourism officials said they saw the same trend following the post-9/11 travel collapse, offering a hint at what priorities have survived the widespread rollback in consumer spending following Wall Street's September meltdown.
This is not to say there haven’t been some impacts on community-based sports organization budgets. In some areas registrations have suffered, and sponsors are harder to come by. So what are clubs doing to ensure there’s enough cash on hand? Many are turning to more fundraising programs than in years past. Groups are doing more marketing: making sure schools know about all registration times and local community newspapers are spreading the word. Some organizations are actually increasing registration fees by a few dollars, understanding that a slight increase probably won’t prevent anyone from registering to play, but that spread over hundreds of kids those few dollars will offset some potential loss of sponsor donations.
There can be no debate that these are difficult times. But the sky is not falling and our kids don’t need to bear the same worries as we parents. Playing sports is the perfect escape for child and adult. And putting on that uniform and going out to play just like always provides a sense of normalcy that kids surely need.